How Dist. 211 students feel about transgender, bathroom issue
As the debate over transgender student access to locker rooms in Palatine-Schaumburg High School District 211 became national news this week, students at the district's schools are also talking about it.
On Monday, the district was cited for not allowing a transgender student unrestricted access to the girls' locker room, a practice the U.S. Department of Education's Office of Civil Rights found discriminatory and gave the district 30 days to reverse.
Superintendent Daniel Cates has said the district will stick by its decision to allow the student, who identifies as female, access to the girls locker room only if she agrees to shower and change clothes in private areas within the locker room. The student already has access to the girls' bathrooms and can play on girls sports teams.
The story was picked up by the New York Daily News, The Washington Post and Fox News, where Cates sparred with anchor Megyn Kelly.
All of the attention has filtered down to District 211's five high schools where more than 12,000 students can't help but notice their district is in national headlines.
"I think that the students have been talking about the issue more than ever because of the amount of news coverage that it's been getting," said Fremd senior Jake Lytle.
Lytle started a petition last month asking the district to change its policy and let the student freely use the locker room of her gender identity. So far his petition has more than 800 signatures, but Lytle said he has not gotten any response to it from teachers or administrators.
As the weeks have passed since the news first broke, Lytle said he was surprised to hear that student opinion is somewhat divided.
"I've been hearing a lot of people opposed to the district, but there's also been more support than I initially expected there to be," he said.
Like District 211 student Kaylee Bergstrom, who does not want a student with male anatomy in her locker room unless that student is segregated in a private area.
"What the district has provided ... is more than enough. In my opinion a transgender boy to girl does not belong in the girls locker room. Never with full access," Bergstrom said.
"I understand that the student may identify as a woman but still has male anatomy. He is still a boy to me," Bergstrom said. "I consider it unsafe, uncomfortable and unfair to allow transgender students into the locker room they don't belong to biologically."
Bergstrom said she also knows some students who wouldn't mind.
Like Fremd senior Hannon Gail, who says let transgender students be themselves.
"It's their gender identity. Let them be them," Gail said. "Making them change somewhere else means they are separated from everyone. They have already struggled a lot and they shouldn't have to deal with this, too."
Other students have tried to imagine putting themselves in the transgender students' shoes.
"I can't imagine being in that position," said Sam Muno, senior at Fremd. "But it would be pretty upsetting if I wasn't allowed in certain locations because of who I am."
Gail and Muno said they would not mind if a transgender student was changing in the same locker room as them.
"When I'm in there I'm not paying attention to other people," Gail said. "They are doing what they are doing and I'm doing what I'm doing."
Johnny Whitfield, president of an anti-bullying group at Fremd called Alliance, said students have been discussing the issue back and forth for weeks.
"It's been coming up all day," Whitfield said. "It is very split, but I think it's a matter of people not understanding the issue."
Mike Downing, fellow senior at Fremd, said he thought if it were up to the students, rather than the administrators, the student would be allowed in the locker room.
"We are all accepting and open," Downing said. "This transgender student has already gone through enough in their life. Having this barrier put in place by the school, a place where they are supposed to feel safe, is just one more thing for them to get over."